It's Lunch Time

Japan Hour

Japan Hour - Spring in Japan
It's Lunch Time


Japan Hour:

It's Lunch Time

This week, we will visit interesting places and find out what the locals eat in these areas. Our first stop is the Kurosaki area in Niigata Prefecture, which has long been known for its rice production. We begin our adventure at 1.30am and discover a vegetable which is harvested at night .We meet a farmer working in a field of edamame soybeans and something called tea beans. The latter are different from regular green edamame soybeans; they have an inner skin which is brown instead of green, hence their name. The farmer is getting ready to load them on a truck and they have to be shipped by 7am. 

We meet another gentleman harvesting beans. Mr Nakamura later shows us a machine costing 3 million yen which removes the sprigs off of the beans. Previously, he used to pull them out by hand. He ships about 20 boxes of beans a day. We then head to the Thanks Farm Kurotori, which has 12 employees. Three farms set up this company two years ago to boost the popularity of tea beans. The beans harvested in the Kurosaki area are sold at a high price of 500 yen for each 200g packet. The tea beans are said to have the aroma of roasted green tea.

We meet Yuri Kitamura, who is in charge of preparing breakfast for the employees after their night shift ends. She used to run a fish store and a Japanese bar. She prepares 10 dishes in the company kitchen. She also teaches us the best way to prepare and cook Kurosaki tea beans. They are rinsed with salt and the soft hairs on the bean pods are removed; this gives the beans a vivid colour after they are boiled.

Ms Kitamura has two assistants in the kitchen. They peel off the inner skins of the beans to make a rice dish - removing the inner skin improves the flavour. The assistants also prepare mixed vegetable and seafood tempura. Other dishes include pickled vegetables, summer vegetables stir-fried with miso and minced meat, tea bean red rice and homemade salted squid. The menu of the employees’ breakfast varies each day, with some of the other items being pork cutlet with rice and beef curry meatballs with a starchy sauce.

Next up is a trip to Chiba City where our first stop is the Inage Sengen Shopping District. It is the oldest shopping area in Chiba. As part of the “one fine item per shop”, campaign, each store decides on which original service or product to promote. The aim is to differentiate themselves from other shops. For example, a boutique in the district sells a one-touch necktie, some cafes provide entertainment once a month, while Inage Akari Salon holds special activities every third Saturday of the month. We visit a tea house called Inage-en, which serves fish stewed in sweetened soy sauce and tea. Adding tea helps to remove the odour while making the fish more tender. We try this unique dish with some rice and pickles. 

We walk towards Inage Station and meet the Iijima siblings. Natsumi is in her fourth year of primary school, while her brother Kousuke is in the first year. We ask them about their summer projects and find out that Natsumi is doing research on spotted garden eels. Their mum Chieko allows us to visit their home to see their schoolwork. Natsumi tells us that she decided to focus on spotted garden eels after seeing them at an aquarium. Kousuke also shows us his research project, which is about killifish. In addition, both siblings are preparing summer picture diaries, featuring places they have visited during the holidays. We later ask Ms Chieko to show us the family meal. She prepares somen noodles and boiled peanuts, a famous item of Chiba.

1) A unique item to eat in Niigata’s Kurosaki area is tea beans
2) No visit to Chiba is complete without trying boiled peanuts, a popular speciality